Affirmative Action Upheld At University Of Texas, And Debate Rages On

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled that the University of Texas could continue to use race as a factor in its admission processes. The 2-1 decision comes a few months after the Supreme Court voted to uphold a ban on racially based admissions decisions in Michigan, proving just how contentious the issue is across the country.

The Texas case, Fisher v. University of Texas, has been in play since 2008 when Abigail Fisher, a white female student, claimed that the well-ranked public school refused her entrance in favor of less qualified minorities. UT grants automatic admission to high school students graduating in the top 7 percent of their class (though when Fisher was an applicant, it was the top 10 percent). These students comprise 75 percent of the incoming freshman class, and the remaining quarter is determined using a formula that takes race into consideration.

Fisher did not meet the top 10 percent requirement, and was also denied admission based on the special formula, which she claims was only the case because she is white. The case was hotly contested for years, and finally made its way to the Supreme Court last year, but the Roberts court failed to make a definitive decision on the matter, instead sending it back down to a circuit court for further examination.

For five years, UT's admission formula remained unchanged, and the Supreme Court only further delayed a final verdict. Now, the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit court has determined that the race-based process can legally remain in play, at least until Fisher and her lawyers decide to appeal once again.

And appeal they shall, it seems. Fisher, who ultimately attended Louisiana State University, a school that is 80 percent white and once reported having the lowest percentage of black students in the state, has long since graduated, and is now a financial analyst in Austin. But though applications and graduations are over, her battle with what was once her dream school are not.

In a statement after the ruling, Fisher said that she remained "committed to continuing this lawsuit," even if it meant "appeal[ing] to the Supreme Court once again.The University of Texas, however, has publicly expressed its satisfaction with the decision, with UT president Bill Powers lauding the race-based formula and its capacity to allow "students who are diverse in all regards [to] come together in the classroom" at a news conference.

UT's sensitivity to racial and ethnic backgrounds has granted the Austin campus considerably more diversity than many other schools in Texas, namely its long-time rival school, Texas A&M. In 2013, UT reported that 46 percent of its freshman class was white. Hispanics made up the next largest demographic at 23 percent, followed by Asians at 20 percent, and African-American students comprising 5 percent. Taking the rest of UT's student body into account barely changes these statistics, with white students taking up 49 percent of the total.

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Texas A&M, on the other hand, which does not consider race as a factor in its admissions process, is noticeably more homogenous than UT. In the fall of 2013, A&M reported that 68 percent of their students were white, with 20 percent of their students of Hispanic background, 5 percent Asian, and 3 percent black. A&M claims that they hope to attract more diversity to the school by using outreach programs, not formulas, but thus far, their numbers do not speak to a particularly diverse campus.

The Fisher v. University of Texas decision is one that comes as a crucial time in the history of race relations in the United States. After April's Supreme Court ruling that many viewed as a blow to affirmative action and minority presence in education, Justice Sotomayor issued a scathing 58-page dissent in which she wrote that the judiciary "ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society."

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And in Abigail Fisher's case, it certainly seems that the courts have consistently addressed the issue of race in the university setting, as every court that has heard Fisher's case has sided with the University of Texas, claiming that their formula is nearly identical to the one used by the University of Michigan Law School in 2003.

In that case, the landmark Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court took a firm stance in support of affirmative action, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writing that the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

In the 11 years since that case, however, the debate surrounding the role of race in college admissions has continued to rage on, and there seems to be no end in sight.

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